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Leading research universities not doing enough for global health

QMUL ranked 19th out of 25 based on their commitment to global health

Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM) and Medsin-UK launched the first UK University Global Health Research League Table last month ranking the UK’s top-funded universities research. The rankings were based on their commitment to global health research, including research in neglected diseases that affect primarily the world’s poorest.

It was revealed that QMUL ranked 19th out of the 25 universities included. The low ranking was caused by the university only investing a small proportion of their research money in global health research. Oxford University, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Imperial College lead the rankings but, outside the top five, universities undertake little global health research in proportion to research budgets. Of the 25 leading UK research universities, only seven have committed to making their discoveries accessible in developing countries.

Despite widespread university policies aimed at making research freely available online, the results of these efforts seem to have had mixed success. On average, 82% of research output across the 25 universities could be classified as free-access, however some universities were as low as 60%.

Dzintars Gotham, coordinator of the University Global Health Research League Table, said: “Our universities are in the unique position to work in the public interest. Their mission is to maximise societal gain through their research. But for universities to live up to their aspirations, they need to lead in equitable research. By investing in the areas of greatest need and sharing the benefits of our research, universities can ensure our research successes have the greatest impact possible.”

Co-president of Medsin Barts, part of a national organisation who supported the project, said: “The results have revealed that QMUL is not doing enough, and it’s our responsibility as QM students to try and push for a rise in investment and increased access to research. We hope with the release of these results, QMUL will strive to improve their position and work towards advancing in areas where research is needed the most.”

While more than 30% of new drugs are developed at universities, cost is a persistent barrier to accessing medication in the developing world. Policies that make research publicly available and medicines affordable in developing countries are key to having a greater impact on global health. Universities can use socially-responsible and cost-effective licensing to make sure that medicines, vaccines and diagnostics they develop are affordable in the developing world. Policies for using this approach have been adopted by over 40 universities worldwide, including Harvard, MIT and, most recently, University College London.

Nobel Laureate Sir John Sulston endorses the league table: “By making biomedical discoveries open to all wherever possible, by ensuring that they are licensed in a socially responsible way and by addressing needs of the poorest people, a university can make a unique contribution to global health.  Nobody loses from such policies – everyone wins – and universities that adopt them become stronger and more attractive to the most able students.”

Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners In Health, warned: “now more than ever, students, faculty, and broader university communities need to hold their institutions accountable for implementing policies that will increase access to life-saving essential medicines and medical technologies, for conducting research on the world’s most neglected health needs, and for empowering communities worldwide to strive to do the same. The league table is a key advocacy tool for driving forward this change.”

The full results are available online at

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